Cotton is a soft fiber that grows around the seeds of the cotton plant. The fibers are spun into thread and used to make a soft, breathable textile. Cotton is a valuable crop because only about 10% of the raw weight is lost in processing. Cotton fiber possesses unique properties of strength, durability, and absorbency. Each fiber is made up of twenty to thirty layers of cellulose coiled in a neat series of natural springs. This interlocked form is ideal for spinning into a fine cloth.
In addition to the textile industry, cotton is used in fishnets, coffee filters, tents and in bookbinding. The first Chinese paper was made of cotton fiber, as is the modern US dollar bill and federal stationery. Fire hoses were once made of cotton. Denim, a type of durable cloth, is made mostly of cotton, as are T-shirts.
The cottonseed, which remains after the cotton is ginned, is used to produce cottonseed oil, which after refining can be consumed by humans like any other vegetable oil. The cottonseed meal that is left is generally fed to livestock.
Today cotton is produced in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australia, using cotton plants that have been bred so that each plant grows more fiber. The cotton industry relies heavily on chemicals such as fertilizers and insecticides, primarily to combat the destructive boll weevil. They include the insecticides acephate, aldicarb, and dicrotophos. Herbicides used include the fungicide PCNB. Seeds have been modified with the BT gene, which some believe escape into the wild and threaten butterflies.